Canada: Rowan's Law Passes: Sports, Concussions And Youth

Last Updated: July 4 2016
Article by Meghan M. Hull Jacquin and James R. Howie

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Those of us who work with persons with head injuries on a daily basis are aware of the prevalence of brain injuries in today's fast paced world. Members of the general population are often shocked to hear the staggering statistics.

Contact sports including football, hockey and boxing have long been known to put their participants at risk of a brain injury. Education has contributed to an increase in children wearing helmets when cycling and skateboarding. Not until fairly recently have helmets been recommended for tobogganing and skiing, and are now required for cycling, skateboarding/scooters. This only makes sense. Over 500,000 Canadians sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. Brain injury is the leading killer and disabler of Canadians under the age of 40. Cyclists wearing helmets reduce the risk of suffering a brain injury by 88%.

Soccer, a seemingly 'harmless' sport given that it is non-contact, is very popular among children, but actually poses a significant danger for brain injury. Without any protection whatsoever, children are encouraged to 'head' a ball to redirect it, or bring it down to again control it with their feet. Children are also in danger of getting hit in the head by a ball kicked by another player in close proximity, not to mention being in the wrong place at the wrong time and receiving a sharp kick to the head by a cleat. These events can occur during a game or practice.

Concussions sustained by kids playing soccer are common enough to warrant concern. Of course this is true for a player of any age, but 30% of all TBIs are sustained by children and youth, many of them while participating in sports and recreational activities.

It is necessary that appropriate treatment be given to minimize the effect of the concussion, however recognizing the symptoms in the first place is a priority. The Ontario government introduced a plan to deal with concussions occurring while children are at school in January 2015. While a teacher is not expected to diagnose a brain injury, they are expected to recognize its signs, remove the child from the activity, and ensure that they are seen by an appropriate health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.

Rowan's Law, named for the Ottawa high school student who died from concussion related injuries in 2013, was made law last week by the Ontario Legislature. Bill 149 establishes an Advisory Committee that will consider how to implement the twelve recommendations made by the Coroner's Jury that addressed the circumstances of Rowan's death and will make other recommendations dealing with the prevention and treatment of concussions.

Ontario has shown itself to be a leader in educational and prevention initiatives. The hope is that the rate of TBIs will decrease as a result. Currently, the cost burden on the province is between 2 to 3 billion dollars annually. The public must continue to be educated about the proper use of helmets and other protective headwear, how to immediately recognize symptoms and the importance of timely treatment in order to minimize long-term effects.

HSH has been a big supporter of Brain Injury Month. We are annual sponsors of the BIST/OBIA Mix & Mingle, BIAYR Mix & Mingle, BIST Birdies for Brain Injury Golf Tournament and several other brain injury-related organizations.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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